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Darren Clarke looking to boost Ryder Cup points

Darren Clarke saw Padraig Harrington make the move he needed for the Ryder Cup and is hoping to do the same when he returns to action in this week's European Open at the K Club starting Thursday.

But, as so often in the past two difficult years for the Ulsterman, he is making no predictions.

That's likely because he has been unable to play on a consistent schedule and has dropped down to 28th place in the cup race. However the slip is understandable with Clarke taking yet more time away from golf because of his wife Heather's cancer battle.

"I have no idea how I am going to play from week to week," Clarke said. "A totally honest answer - I have no idea. Of course I am capable (of winning), but I don't know the answer."

Clarke has been "making changes" to his game with television commentator and former tour player Ewen Murray.

"Having not played a lot of competitive golf I'm not as sharp as I should be," Clarke said. "I've been working on things since the Irish Open and it certainly feels okay. It's just a question of doing it on the course.

"I've been changing my takeaway a little bit. I've been too handsy for a couple of years and I am trying to take my hands out of it. My putting has been average as well."

This week's tournament is at the same venue but not on the Ryder Cup course and Clarke will not be returning to the layout where he shot a European tour record-tying 60 seven years ago.

Harrington is now sixth in the standings - not secure yet, but looking a lot better than he did before his fifth-place finish in the U.S. Open last month.

"I've achieved what I've wanted to achieve the last couple of weeks," Harrington said. "Now it's back to focusing on the sole job of winning tournaments. I'm quite confident I'm going to make the team from where I'm at. I never wanted to be in the position of having to be picked."

While Clarke and Harrington will be teeing it up another player battling for a Ryder Cup spot has decided to take the week off. Dane Thomas Bjorn is battling hard to be part of Europe's lineup against the Americans in September, yet he believes his bid for a third cap is best served by staying away from a place that has given him nightmares in the past.

Last year, Bjorn led by four with a round to go, having just played one of the most impressive rounds of his career. But what a difference a day makes.

The 35-year-old's game went to pieces in the final round especially down the stretch. Tied for top spot with two to play he hit three balls into the River Liffey, ran up a septuple-bogey 11 and with a closing bogey six slumped to an 86 and a share of 33rd place.

Bjorn made the decision back in March that he would skip the European Open, saying it suited his schedule to take the week off in his build- up to the British Open at Hoylake in two weeks.

England's Kenneth Ferrie, the player who capitalized on Bjorn's collapse, returns to defend the title.

American Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman also plays this week. His trip, of course, is primarily to check out final preparations for September's match and it ought not to matter too much to him that the tournament has been switched away from the Ryder Cup course.

July 6, 2006


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